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Jim Kouzes

Jim Kouzes

Jim Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Professor of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, and the coauthor with Barry Posner of the internationally award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge.

Send a Clear Message

At risk in the Governor Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal is President-elect Barack Obama's personal credibility. And, because credibility is the foundation of leadership, Mr. Obama must take it seriously. In the long run, nothing else compares in importance. Not change. Not vision. Not hope.

That's why Mr. Obama must do what every leader in similar circumstances should do: Be completely honest. Answer the questions the media and the public have. Tell the truth. Be transparent. Hide nothing. Make no efforts to cover up. Anything short of full disclosure risks creating lingering suspicion that something improper may have transpired. Don't let this occupy repeated news cycles. Get out in front of the issue, and get it behind you well before January 20, 2009.

The same goes for those on the transition team. Even the most routine political contacts between staff of the President-elect and Governor Blagojevich raise questions and create room for doubt. Those involved need to fully disclose what they did. And they need to do it now. First to Mr. Obama, which we must presume they have, and next to the public. If they did absolutely nothing improper, the President-elect should support his team and express confidence in them. Should it become known that anyone stepped over the line, they need to be shown the exit. People must get the message that there is no room for pay-to-play in this, or any, administration.

All leaders confront critical incidents in their organizations. You can't plan everything. Stuff happens, and even the most disciplined leaders can't stop the intrusion of the unexpected. Critical incidents offer significant moments of learning for leaders and constituents. They present opportunities for leaders to teach important lessons about appropriate norms of behavior.

Mr. Obama, who confronted a few critical incidents in his campaign and handled them quite skillfully, is now presented with another. He should use it to send a loud and clear message to his staff, his cabinet appointees, elected officials, the electorate, and the global community about the kind of political behavior he values and expects. Here's a chance to be forthright about the principles that should guide actions and decisions during his administration. Here's a chance to show us in word and deed that "Change Can Happen" applies to the way politics is conducted as well as the policies that are pursued.

President-elect Barack Obama has demonstrated throughout his campaign that he is quite capable of calmly and intelligently handling affronts to his character. His leadership over the past month has been nearly pitch perfect. There's nothing to suggest that he won't handle this most recent incident with the same skill and integrity that he handled the others. His personal credibility, and his ability to govern long term, will be strengthened in the process.

By Jim Kouzes

 |  December 15, 2008; 1:17 PM ET
Category:  Politics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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